Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Basics: Washing versus sanitizing

What is the difference between washing and sanitizing?  I feel like I always see sanitizing products and I've wondered to myself, how is that different from just using soap?  Well I have finally found out!

I took a Foodsafe course a few weeks ago and the instructor explained that washing is to get rid of dirt and sanitizing is to get rid of microbes (disease-causing bacteria, viruses, parasites).  A person can wash the counter and not sanitize it but you shouldn't sanitize the counter before washing it.  Why not?
Well according to my Foodsafe instructor, the purpose of washing before sanitizing is that washing breaks down the dirt so that the sanitizer can reach the surface.  If you just spray sanitizer on a dirty surface, you are in effect sanitizing the dirt but not the counter.  Put another way, sanitizer can't break through some substances (like fat, ie. butter, bacon grease).  Soap is needed to do the heavy lifting before sanitizing can swoop in and get your counter extra clean.

Is sanitizing necessary?  In some cases I think it is a very good idea to sanitize surfaces in your kitchen.  If you are cutting up chicken or another kind of poultry, then sanitizing is smart.  If you have prepared a lot of different types of food in the kitchen then it is not a bad idea to give it a really thorough clean once you're done (ie. sanitize your counter).  If you are preparing food for people with touchy immune systems (seniors, large groups of kids, etc.) then definitely wash and sanitize your counter before beginning your food preparation.  Other areas of the house don't need to be sanitized.  Despite being a house cleaner and calling myself a clean freak, I am not a germaphobe.  I don't think it is healthy to create a mausoleum of your home.  Exposure to germs is what develops our immune systems and they are a natural part of the world. 

What should I use to sanitize?  Again according to my Foodsafe instructor, there are several sanitizers that are approved for use in the food industry.  Diluted bleach is one and diluted isopropyl alcohol is another.  I haven't researched the toxicity of bleach (I will) but I have looked at isopropyl alcohol because that is what I use.  To make a sanitizer spray, I buy a bottle of isopropyl alcohol and dilute with water until I have 70% alcohol and 30% water.  It is biodegradable but according to the MSDS sheet is not healthy for fish.  I recommend using it for non-porous surfaces in your kitchen but not in your sink or anywhere else in the house where it can get into your waterway. 

I understand that toxic stuff gets flushed down the toilet all the time so some people may not worry about a few sprays of alcohol, but it is becoming important that we all look at our every day choices to lessen the toxic load on our little planet.

PS I like to add organic peppermint oil to my sanitizer spray because it smells deeeeeelicious!